Ask a Therapist: Overcoming Eating Disorders with Barry Tigay

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Do you have an intense, persistent fear of gaining weight? Are you obsessed with exercise? Do you abuse laxatives, diuretics, diet pills or drugs to induce vomiting? Eating disorders affect both men and women and if not treated immediately, can lead to life-long medical and psychological problems and even death. Join Barry Tigay, PhD, as he answers your questions about eating disorders.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome everyone! Today's guest is Barry Tigay, PhD. He will be answering your questions about how to overcome eating disorders.

poontaasha: What is the most common eating disorder seen in teens and adults?

Barry Tigay, PhD: The most common is compulsive overeating. There are three types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa (which is not eating enough), bulemia nervosa (which is generally eating too much on binges followed by extreme measures to undo the binge such as vomiting) and compulsive overeating.

PequenaB_IB: I'm not sure if I'm anorexic or not. Can you tell me some things about the disorder?

Barry Tigay, PhD: Anorexia is characterized by the inability to maintain even a minimal body weight, a fear of gaining weight and a significant disturbance in body image. People who suffer from this usually perceive themselves to be overweight even if they are underweight. For more definitions, please visit and look under the topic of disorders.

nora_charles_1936: What seems to be more useful in treating eating disorders, behavioral modification or meds?

Barry Tigay, PhD: We don't usually think in an either/or fashion. Psychotherapy is always indicated, and medication may or may not be. This depends on depression, anxiety or other symptoms. Each case needs to be looked at in its own right. You should not compare your case to others.

nora_charles_1936: Do you think eating disorders are perpetuated by the media, i.e. Spice Girls, Kate Moss, Calista Flockhart, etc.?

Barry Tigay, PhD: The media is out there and it does its thing, and men and women are exposed to role models that represent unobtainable body types. It is up to us as individuals to be realistic as to what we can and cannot do. Being a healthy individual and living up to our potential can be an admirable goal but there are limits to what we can accomplish. So let's not blame the media. Let's get ourselves to be realistic about what we are exposed to.

indu_narang: How do you avoid overeating?

Barry Tigay, PhD: It is important to get a good measure of how much we are eating. We can accomplish this by writing down what we eat. Keeping a food journal sounds simple, but when you begin, you will be surprised how you might skip small snacks or underestimate portion size. If you feel you are eating too much and are unconscious of it, begin with a food journal. A second good technique is to focus less on how much you eat and focus on the active things that you can do to become more fit. Increase your exercise and make sure you eat large amounts of healthy foods so that you will be less hungry, and not so vulnerable to the unhealthy foods. By healthy foods I mean lean protein and high fiber carbohydrates.

nora_charles_1936: Registered dietitians, doctors and psychiatrists - a team approach seems to show some success. What is your comment on this?

Barry Tigay, PhD: I agree that getting support from a number of professionals is likely to be helpful so long as this is coordinated. Professionals like to collaborate, and your chances of success are increased if you approach treatment from a number of perspectives.

lafreeka: Does bulemia or anorexia affect girls more than boys?

Barry Tigay, PhD: It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of eating disorders occur in females. There is some evidence that it is rising in men.

lafreeka: What is the youngest age that a child can be affected by anorexia or bulemia?

Barry Tigay, PhD: There is no lower age limit, and we tend to be seeing younger and younger children with eating disorders. Parents need to recognize that we need to show children acceptance, not to be nervous around food issues and find healthy avenues for them to find self-esteem.

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